Well, I would write about using material culture sources here, but since this is digital history and we did soundscapes and music today, I know we are supposed to talk about that. As it happens, I do use a lot of music for teaching, particularly in my 20th Century U.S. Culture course. For this course each class features a “song of the day” from the relevant era. When I first began to do this more than ten years ago, I chose all the songs and played them, providing brief background and contextual information. Later I began to ask the students to each select a day and song and present the song. With the advent of YouTube, this has become much easier for all of us, of course. I provide a master list of song choices, but I also allow the students to choose a different song for the given period (with my approval). I ask them to present their song along with some history about the song, the composer and singer, and the historical context.
After learning about allmusic.com today, I am thinking that when I teach this course next spring, I will ask the students to trace their song at this site as well, so that they can see who else has recorded it, and how it has changed over time. I also liked the discussion of transgression in popular song, and am thinking I could set this assignment up more fully than I have in the past. One way might be to look at what popular songs do, and how they express and transgress social and cultural norms. I loved the Postmodern Jukebox and think that I could use the site to showcase some of the things that songs can do. In short, I think I can make this assignment more effective by tweaking it, using the insights and tools from Mike O’Malley’s presentation.